"A Taboo Subject"
This morning France-Echos published a communiqué from Jacques Perrier, Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes:
Looking at these reactions to the Pope's speech, one can't fail to make a comparison with the affair of the Danish cartoons. But everyone saw the cartoons. How many people have read the text of his speech? I was curious: what did the Pope say?
Before the university faculty, the Pope reflected on a question that is always at the heart of his intellectual activity: the relationship between faith and reason. He believes they should be mutually beneficial to each other. For either one of them, taken in isolation from the other, can be uncontrollable and dangerous.
As part of his discussion he quoted several lines he found in his recent readings, no doubt his summer reading list, from Conversations With A Muslim, written by a Byzantine emperor around the year 1400. The Pope began with a sentence from the Koran: "No constraint in matters of faith."
But when Islam became a political and military power, the doctrine of jihad appeared, a spiritual combat that can take the form of war in the classic sense of the word. The emperor said to his interlocutor that it wasn't a good thing because "not to act in accordance with reason contradicts the nature of God" and that use of force is not an argument.
It is wonderful that that was written six centuries ago. It happens to be by a Christian and, what is even more interesting, by someone who held the power to use arms.
Does citing this text really constitute a provocation? The Pope had taken pains to soften the shock by warning that the author had spoken "in a surprisingly abrupt manner."
Proof that Pope Benedict XVI does not scorn Islam is that, at the close of the speech, he recommends "listening to the great experiences and intuitions of religious traditions." Who could doubt that Islam is one of them?
The cartoons made fun of symbols of Islam and, in particular, the person of the Prophet. The Holy Father did no such thing. But he himself is a symbol: one year after his election, he has just learned this from painful experience. He alludes to a debate which, in any case, runs throughout the Muslim world (what is the definition of jihad?), and suddenly he's treated as an enemy! Has Islam become a taboo subject? Can no one say anything just because someone will take offense, and others, like copycats, will follow?
As Pope, and as the man of reflection that he was before and still is, Pope Benedict XVI is surely not ready to allow himself to be forbidden to speak, and above all, to think.
While the bishop's words are welcome, they still do not go far enough. We do not need proof that Benedict does not scorn Islam, quite the contrary - we need proof that the Pope understands the true nature of Islam and that he is fully aware of the intellectual and physical terrorism the West is being subjected to. And that he is aware of the probable need to use force to stop the Islamic invasion.
When the bishop asks if Islam has become a taboo subject, one can only wonder if his naïveté is feigned or genuine. If it's genuine, then he has been living in a dream world. Let's hope that the bishop and the Pope are testing the waters, and preparing for more overt criticism of a more forceful nature.